Thursday, August 25, 2005

Real content!

It's like I promised! No more links, non-functioning or otherwise! Where did I leave off in describing my exciting travels... let's see, Middletown, Andrea, beautiful movie... right, Grandpa Labon. I wanted to make sure to visit before skipping the country for a while, and it worked out that I was able to come for his 96th birthday.

So most of you remember Grandpa Labon from his ongoing attempt to bring me back into the Jewish fold. Other background about my grandfather: Son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he grew up in Baltimore where his family owned a grocery store (Not exactly Super Stop & Shop - the old fashioned kind, with live chickens and whatnot.) He was an electrical engineer for the army for many many years, including a stint in the Phillipines during WWII where he met my grandmother who was a WAC, followed by years of things like dam building in the southwest. Which meant my mother grew up in El Paso, Texas, which she escaped at the earliest possible opportunity. Living up fully to the stereotypes of that profession, he is meticulous and scientifically minded - even though I was always a good student, he didn't appreciate my dislike for math and science. (During one particular rant: "You won't even be able to turn the stove on in the future if you don't study science.") He's a good Depression era survivor - he and my grandmother saved everything - I remember stacks of yogurt cups and drawers of rubber bands when we went to visit. He keeps saran wrap on the remote control. He has never exactly looked on the bright side of things (buy him a present, and he unfailingly tells you what's wrong with it), a quality which certainly hasn't exactly mellowed as he has become old and bored in a retirement home. (Traditional conversation opener: How are you doing Grandpa? "As well as can be expected.")

Rebecca, what's the point of this story? I like stories. Oh, right, I was trying to set the scene for why visiting my grandfather is not usually at the top of my list of exciting activities. Not that it's so very awful, but usually our visits are fairly boring - my family sits on the couch and lets him ramble on about something he read in his scientific magazine or where he bought his shoes. But this time I was pleasantly surprised - I really enjoyed the visit and even stayed longer than I intended! From the moment I called him to say I was coming, he was just pleased as punch. When I tried to nail down a time to stop by, he kept saying how anytime was fine, he could rearrange his schedule. This, from the man who gives new meaning to the word "routine". He was just glowing the whole time I was there. I think he felt that I WANTED to visit and was really interested in seeing him. We talked a lot about food and cooking (he used to be a master ice-cream eater and bread-baker and his eyes really lit up at those subjects). He gave me a tour of the facility and introduced me to all of his cute old friends. He always makes it sound like he's bored and alone, but all the people I met had a real sparkle, and were quite friendly with my grandfather, all joking around and everything. And he was delighted to show me off and talk about how I graduated from Wesleyan and I'm going off to Ecuador and whatnot. And apparently he helped start a "Men's Club" where they get together and discuss current events once or twice a week. He seemed pleased that they rely on him a lot to keep on top of things, and he often makes notes of points to discuss in advance. (I was a bit put off by this stuffy old idea of keeping such a club only for men, but to be fair there are only about 20 men out of the 100 residents, so I guess I can see the value.)

Well, this was just a whole new side of my grandfather! I'm so glad I got that glimpse - he's really in amazing health for his age and it always seemed a shame to me that he had resigned himself to sit in his apartment and be old. He has no major health problems, walks without assistance, cooks for himself and has no real dietary restrictions, and is mentally as sharp as he ever was. I guess I vaguely remember him being more vivacious when I was younger and we visited them in El Paso, before my grandmother broke her hip and started her decline, when they had to move out of their home. (When we were talking he would still tear up every time he would mention her, though it's been at least 8 years since she died, and she was pretty far gone well before that.) Anyway, this is the first year that I have really seen his age catch up with him - his vision suddenly deteriorated so that he can hardly read any more, he had to stop driving, and he feels like his memory is slipping a bit. So I hope he keeps living it up as long as he can.

Wow, that was really quite a lot about my grandfather. Happy Birthday to him! I'll ramble on more about Boston in a separate post.


  1. happy birthday labon! did you tell him about seder this year? see you in ummmm three and a half hours.

  2. I sure did... after I told him he sent me a $100 check. Heh... See you in an hour!

  3. LAAAAAAAABON! Oh man, excellent series of updates. Hurry back from Lookout so you can write more!!!!!

  4. Rebecca, with Grandpa's eyesight being what it is (or isn't) I guess your blog is safe from his eyes! Your bio of him is amusing, endearing, and quite accurate! (Except that he really can't take credit for BUILDING the dam on the Rio Grande in Elephant Butte, New Mexico - where I spent the first 4 years of my boring childhood growing up - such a wonderful place name, isn't it? He was merely the Chief Power Engineer or some such thing. Although I do remember Stu and me taking a car trip in 1981 with him and my mother from El Paso up to Santa Fe. The entire 6 hours he narrated the landscape with stories of how he and his crew - of Mexicans, naturally - singlehandedly electrified rural New Mexico. ("...and over that rise is where the jeep overturned and one of my men got a deep gash in his leg that bled all over us and we had to rush him to the hospital..." is the one I remember.) Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed your visit but it sounds like he enjoyed it more!

  5. The two stories I remember from that road trip are how he negotiated with an indian tribal council for right of way for one of the main lines, and how he and another guy and a couple of mules climbed up one of the taller mountains in the area with war surplus comm gear to set up his own private communications network during construction.